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There have been many significant and long-running fantasy series over the years since Tolkein’s Lord of The Rings changed the entire landscape of the genre. These changes have laid the foundations for these works of fantasy even 70 years later.
Tolkien’s LOTRs is one of the most famously adapted pieces of fiction ever, cementing the fantasy genre’s place in mainstream media. Authors George R.R. Martin and Brandon Sanderson owe much of their success to Tolkien. However, the fantasy series I wish to talk about today is one that has benefited even more from Tolkien’s influence. This series is, of course, The Witcher.
As a major fan of The Witcher universe, including the T.V. show and games, I think it is only right that such a universe is explored in some finner detail. I hope, therefore, through this general overview of the series, you will come away with a greater understanding of the mega-popular series and also gain a newfound respect for the property.
So with all this being said, why don’t we jump right into this article and get talking about The Witcher, one of my favorite subjects? Let’s go!
I think that it is safe to say that most of the general populace became familiar with The Witcher through the video games and the new Netflix T.V. show starring Henry Cavill. After all, there really aren’t that many of us die-hard fantasy fans out there prepared to read hundreds and hundreds of pages of originally serialized content about a white-haired monster hunter.
With this in mind, we should first talk about the content that has inspired these massively popular video games and T.V. series. I am, of course, talking about The Witcher novels by the amazingly talented Andrzej Sapkowski.
This Polish author originally published his first Witcher short stories in a serialized format for a local magazine, similar to how Isaac Asimov rose to popularity in 1939. These short stories were collated into the first Witcher novel, published in 1994 under Blood Of Elves. After the success of this book, the author signed a contract for further books, and The Witcher series of novels was officially born, with ten currently published as of 2022.
These books continued to rise in popularity within the fantasy community; however, it was in October 2007 that the I.P. rose to international acclaim as CD Projekt Red published the first Witcher game, capturing the imagination of gamers around the world.
There are many reasons that this I.P. has become successful throughout two successful adaptation projects (video games and now T.V.), but one of the main reasons, in my opinion anyway, is the Witcher’s themselves, so let’s take a quick look at these amazing characters and the main protagonist of the series.
What Is a Witcher?
Their General Purpose and How They Are Created
When humanity began spreading across the world, they began finding that as they moved further north, there were more and more creatures out there in the dark than they had ever believed. Many times throughout these early years of man’s expansion, entire parties of settlers and armies were slowly wiped out by these creatures that nobody knew how to defeat.
To save their people and aid their expansion efforts, the rulers of the Northern Kingdoms tasked their mages with the creation of a breed of magical warriors who could be sent out against these monsters. After years of trial and error and the deaths of many young boys, the first ever Witchers were successfully created. The mages were amazingly proud of their creations. However, their rulers saw these creatures as little more than petty soldiers with limited magical ability. They, therefore, decided that the experiment was a failure, banishing the first generation out of their castles.
Thankfully, however, the mages did not see eye to eye with their masters. Some decided to continue their experiments, believing that these creatures were humanity’s only chance against the monsters. These mages brought the first generation of Witchers and their continued experiments behind the walls of Castle Morgraig. These mages continued their experiments and successfully created more Witchers, beginning the first age of Witchers.
In the beginning, it was not clear how a Witcher was successfully produced, the processes being kept secret by the mages that had first created them, preventing their creations from making more of themselves at will. However, at some point during the first age of Witchers, the mages became disillusioned with their projects and abandoned the Witchers to fend for themselves. This abandonment, combined with a fear of their number slowly dwindling and going extinct, forced some of the first generations of Witchers to learn how to make more of their kind. This led them to learn about the mutagenic compound the mages had given them as children, allowing them to become responsible for creating and training new Witchers as they saw fit.
These Witchers then began spreading across the continent, fighting monsters for coins, bringing back any information they learned about them and how one could defeat them to their centralized training schools such as Kaer Morhen.
What and How Do They Fight?
A Witcher, as already mentioned, is created via a magical process that imbues the subject with some magical abilities. These abilities, combined with years of intense and often brutal training, combine to create a being of supreme skill in all areas of combat.
A Witcher is taken as a child into a Witcher training school such as Kaer Morhen; here, they are given a series of mutagenic compounds which are just as likely to kill them as it is to turn them into Witchers.
Surviving this process will give the child certain unique characteristics, including:
- Sterility means that they cannot self-populate and must take in new recruits from the outside world.
- Improved eye site allows them to articulate their pupils to see in any light conditions.
- Overall improvements to all senses.
- Near immunity to almost all diseases.
- Increases in strength, speed, reflexes, and endurance.
- The increased magical ability allows them to perform simple but powerful combat magic in the form of signs.
- Accelerated healing and incredibly long life spans.
With all of these abilities, a Witcher is effectively the most dangerous thing one could happen across out in the wilderness. However, there seems to be a moral code implanted into their training as they rarely hurt or steal from the innocent.
They also use a series of potions that can boost their already enhanced attributes for when they get into a particularly difficult battle. These potions, combined with two swords, one silver blade for monsters and one steel for humans, make an incredibly fearsome opponent for monsters and humans alike.
All these abilities and the hard training may seem over the top in a world where magic exists and is rather common. However, the monsters that Witchers must fight in their everyday life really do call for such measures. These creatures are all known to hunt, terrorize, and kill the innocent people of the continent. The kingdoms of the Witcher world, Kaedwen, Temeriam, Redania, and Aedirn, often do not care about the lives of their lowly subjects, so it is commonly left to small settlements to gather enough crowns between themselves to hire a Witcher.
All of these monsters have large amounts of lore associated with them, and how they can be killed, information that all Witchers know and must depend on. Some of the most common monsters in the continent include Basilisks, Nekkers, Harpies, and Ghouls.
Main Witchers Throughout the Series
Seen as a father figure to all Witchers just before and long after the sacking of Kaer Morhen. By 1260, he was the last remaining old Witcher; however, as a meer fencing instructor, he was never educated in the process of creating new Witchers. This means that most of his character motivation throughout the series is the creation of a new multiagent and the continuance of his kind. As well as a deep love for the younger Witcher that he personally trained, viewing them all as his own children.
Vesmir is easily one of the most notable Witchers throughout the series. Not only did he train and raise our protagonist, but he is also the person who Geralt will continue to turn to for advice.
His position as master and father figure to all remaining Witchers came to a head when Geralt brought his child surprise to Kaer Morhen for Witcher training. Classically, Witchers had always begun their training and mutagenic transformation from a very young age and had also always been boys. However, a combination of Geralt’s persistence and Ciri’s unique abilities won the old man over, and he began training the young princess of Cintra. However, it was through Ciri that Vesemir discovered how to make a new mutagen and, therefore, create more Witchers.
As another one of Vesemir’s trainees, he is regarded as a brother to Geralt and the others of that generation and a son to Vesemir. Lambert is known, mostly, as a harsh-speaking ruffian who may have a slight dislike for mages, especially the ever-present Triss Merigold. However, he is seen to constantly overlook this prejudice throughout the series in the interest of the greater good.
Lambert was one of the few Witchers reaming who decided to winter back home in Kaer Morhen during 1267. While he was here, he first met Ciri, and he was quickly roped into helping with her training and instructing her in combat.
While Lambert never actually deviates from the teachings he received from VEsemir as a child, always ensuring to protect the innocent and do right by his brothers and new sister, Ciri, he is often characterized as envious of Geralt. It would seem that while he always does the right thing; he has core insecurities that he must fight with daily; this is described as emanating from his rough childhood as he was constantly beaten alongside his mother by his alcoholic father.
Geralt of Rivia
The main character of the Witcher series is Geralt of Rivia; the books, games, and the T.V. show all follow his journeys, battles, and escapades throughout the 13th century. Also known as the White Wolf, a moniker given to him by his surrogate father figure Vesemir due to his white hair and membership of the School of the Wolf in Kaer Morhen.
Geralt does not originate from Rivia. Instead, his mother left him at Kaer Morhen when he was very young. Here he went through the Witcher trials and mutagenic transformation required of all Witchers, a process nearly killing him.
The famous White Wolf has too many battles and celebrated victories to cover in this brief character description. However, I would usually think about Geralt as a character defined by his relationships, and those are things we can certainly cover briefly here.
Firstly, Geralt is incredibly close to his surrogate daughter and child of surprise, Ciri. While he was made sterile by the Witcher mutagen as a young man, Geralt views Ciri as his own daughter, placing her security and well-being above his own countless times throughout the series. It is also shown throughout that the two have a unique and somewhat magical bond that leads the pair towards one another, allowing them to help each other when they need it most.
Also, throughout the series, Geralt has had many romantic interests; however, most of these turn out to be nothing more than fleeting dalliances. No matter what, though, throughout each book, video game, and T.V. series, two love interests always remain, Triss Merigold and Yennefer of Vengerberg. These three people form a love triangle that Geralt must navigate through during his adventures. While the author of the Witcher series has stated time and time again that Yennefer is the love of his life and the one he ultimately ends up with, the games commonly allow the player to pick Triss instead of Yennefer, an interesting decision.
Key Side Characters Throughout the Series
Throughout this article, I have already said that Geralt is the main protagonist. However, there is a very real argument to be made that Ciri is, in fact, the heroin of our story as everything is seemingly building around her, placing the young princess at the center of the continent’s possible future.
Cirilla is the last remaining heir to the kingdom of Cintra after her mother, Pavetta dies. She became a child of surprise and, therefore, Geralt’s responsibility after he saved her father’s life, Duny, and lifted his curse. As thanks, Duny invoked the law of surprise to reward the Witcher. However, he did not know Pavetta was already pregnant with Ciri.
After the fall of Cintra, Ciri fled from the capital and eventually found Geralt, who took her and, after finding out about her innate magical abilities, brought her to Kaer Morhen to undergoWitcher training in the hopes of helping her to protect herself in the future.
Yennefer of Vengerberg
Yennefer was born with a genetic abnormality that caused her to develop a humpback and a club foot. The ailments resulted in her being ostracised by her local community and resulted in her being victimized by her father and her peers. However, she would soon discover her magical abilities and make her way to the Aretuza school for sorceresses. Here, she would undergo an incredibly painful yet transformative process that rid her of all abnormalities, leaving a beautiful and powerful mage in her place.
Due to her incredibly difficult childhood and consequent dependence on magic, Yennefer became obsessed with growing more and more powerful, so when a Witcher, the famous Geralt of Rivia, came to her in possession of both an injured friend and a djin, she hoped to take the djin’s power for herself regardless of the consequences. However, this power would have killed her, and so Geralt was forced to save her by using the djin’s final wish to bind her life to his. This resulted in Geralt and Yennefer falling in love, although their relationship would be anything but plain sailing.
Yennefer, Geralt’s main love interest, is also seen as Ciri’s adoptive mother, and the pair grew close as she trained Ciri in her magic.
The Magic System of The Witcher
There are few rules that authors must adhere to produce a good and respectable fantasy series; however, one main rule that I think transforms a decent fantasy series into a good one is a detailed and well-explained magic system that ensures the reader can understand any and all happenings throughout the series without having to have faith or suspend their belief.
The magic system in the Witcher is by no means the best one out there; for that, one would have to look at the work of Brandon Sanderson. However, the Polish author goes to great lengths to explain to the reader the ramifications and limitations of magic in his world.
Firstly, magic is a power that is derived from the harnessing of chaos, an omnipresent power that can be tapped by those especially attuned to its rhythms. However, there are degrees to one’s ability to use magic and, therefore, their power. Some have more access to chaos than others, while others, called sources, are born with the power inside of them. This innate power allows these sources to grasp the true power of chaos unlike any other. Notable sources throughout the series are Ciri and her late mother, Pavetta.
Outside of this general understanding, there are various branches of magic throughout the Witcher universe. Thes branches relate to a mage’s natural affinity for one area of study over all others. This means that mages can only become truly adept in one branch of magic, although they may be able to dabble slightly in the other aspects of magic. These magical branches are often broken down by element into five separate spheres:
- Mind – Telekinesis, Telepathy, and Telempathy.
- Air – Aerokinesis, Aeromancy.
- Earth – Geokinesis, Geomancy.
- Water – Hydrokenisis, Hydromancy.
- Fire – Pyrokinesis, Pyromancy.
Alongside these common branches of magic, there are also banned forms of magic that the elders of the magical community ensure are never adopted by their students. These are Goetia, or the practice of summoning creatures from other dimensions, and Necromancy.
The Witchers are imbued with limited magical ability in the form of combat magic called signs; however, common mages are also capable of producing such signs. There are five signs available to the Witchers:
- Aard – A telekinetic thrust that can throw enemies and objects away from the Witcher.
- Axii – This hypnotic sign works by confusing and calming creatures by manipulating their minds.
- Igni – This sign allows the Witcher to summon a pyrokinetic burst of fire that can ignite nearby enemies.
- Quen – Creates a magical shield around the Witcher, preventing physical attacks and sonic waves from damaging the user. This spell remains until broken or dispelled, never running out.
- Yrden – Placable on any solid surface, this sign blocks monsters from getting closer, slowing them down and turning non-corporeal forces corporeal.
The Main Conflict of the Series
While minute and small-scale conflicts occur throughout the books and games, only one large-scale conflict occurs throughout the series, the Northern Wars, also known as the Nilfgaardian Wars. There are three separate Nilgaardian wars throughout the Witcher series, each with dire consequences and requiring the involvement of Geralt at some point or another.
Northern War 1
The first Northern War came about after the Nilgaardian empire and, therefore, its emperor decided that they would expand into the northern territories of Cintra. It would appear that the Nilfgaardians initially strove to conquer the southern territories to assert their dominance in that region. While their rise concerned the Northern Kingdoms, no pushback came from them as they assumed that the Nilfgaardians would never dare cross the Amell mountains and bring the war to their doors.
They were wrong, and after the NIlfgaardians took over the entirety of the southern continent, they began looking north, inspired by their victories. Their eventual attack on the Northern kingdoms began in 1239 when they laid siege to Ebbing. Queen Calanthe immediately recognized this show of aggression for what it was, the beginning of the Nilfgaardian war machine’s quest for total continental dominance; therefore, she sent her armies to face them in the battle of Marnadal. The Cintran army was equipped with weapons and skilled soldiers in this battle. However, the Nilfgaardian army proved too vast and too experienced in war, having been in constant conflict for decades in the south. Therefore, the Nilfgaardians made short work of the Cintran forces at the foot of the mountain pass and blasted through them, killing the Cintran king, Eist Tuirseach, in the process.
After this battle, it was not long until the foreign army made its way to Elenwald, the Cintran Capital, and brought destruction to the city. Before the palace fell, Queen Calanthe made sure that Ciri escaped before taking her own life, preferring to end things on her own terms than be used as some political puppet.
The army then continued into Upper Sodden, where, once again, their army faced little real opposition, advancing into Lower Sodden almost without effort. However, by the time the army crossed the Yaruga and made their way into the Lower Sodden region, the Northern Kingdoms had formed an alliance, bringing all of their soldiers and mages to face the Nilfgaardian threat.
This battle, known as the Battle of Sodden Hill, is probably the most famous skirmish to ever occur in the Witcher series, with over 100,000 combatants taking to the field, resulting in over 30,000 deaths and the sacrifice of 13 northern mages before the Nilfgaardians were finally defeated and rebuffed by the northern powers. This resulted in the Nilfgaardians fleeing across the Yaruga and into their already captured territories of Cintra and Upper Sodden; however, their advance was stopped, and the first Northern War ended.
Northern War 2
The second Northern War came as a direct result of the first conflict. The northern kingdoms that still remained knew that it was only a matter of time before the Nilfgaardians felt ready to commence their slow march over their land; therefore, they decided that they must bring the battle to them before they could recoup their losses and come back stronger than before.
However, due to the massive losses sustained at the Battle of Sodden Hill, the northern people had lost their taste for war and wanted nothing less than another battle that would only result in the loss of their children’s lives. So, to win public favor, the northern kingdoms decided to make it look like Nilfgaard attacked first, thus legitimizing the war and acquiring the people’s support.
This plan looked fit to succeed. However, the Nilfgaardian empire caught wind of it just before the northerners could begin their march, allowing them to take the northern cities by surprise in a full-scale blitzkrieg attack.
This war would end, however, just as it started due to the incompetence of their commanders. This was, however, not enough to fully wipe out the Nilfgaardian control of Cintra, as it gave the emperor enough time to concoct a false wedding to a pretend Ciri and, therefore, establish legitimate control over Cintra.
The Northern War 3
The details of this war are less certain as most of the consequences and results of the battle can be seen to change due to player choices in the Witcher video games. However, the canon ending of this war shows the leader of the Northern armies, Radovid, defeating the southern threat of Nilgaard through superior tactics and general martial knowledge.
However, this is still not a good outcome for the northern territories as with Radovid in charge, his hatred for anything non-magical begins to seep into his new Northern Empire, resulting in the formation of witch hunt across the land for anything non-human or in any way different, including Witchers and mages.
After this, The emperor of the Nilfgaardian empire was assassinated by his most trusted allies as punishment for his failure in the north; he was then immediately succeeded by Morvran Voorhis.
However, as mentioned, this ending can be changed by the player choices throughout The Witcher 2 and 3, resulting in a rather more pleasant ending for some.
The General Theme of the Series
Whether we are talking about the books or their adaptations, there is always one throughline in The Witcher universe. This throughline persists and is often overlooked until one is deeply intimate with the source material.
You see, no matter what Geralt comes up against on his travels, whether it be a Griffen or a Drowner, they are described or represented as being thoughtless and mentally inferior to humans, incapable of empathy, regret, and guilt. Therefore, when Geralt ultimately defeats one, they are forgotten about. However, how many times has he defeated such a creature for the humans that hired him to turn around and spit in his face? How many times has the protagonist of our story wanted the powers that be about their actions and their repercussions?
In essence, then, the humans are the main focus of this story. They are the creatures that Geralt fights off against throughout the series most regularly, whether that be with swords, signs, or words. They are the ones who pose the most danger to the continent, and it is their nature that confuses Geralt the most throughout his journey. Therefore, to understand the Witcher universe properly, you must understand that while he may fight creatures for money, the true monsters are the humans who pay him.
Frequently Asked Questions
Questions: Is there going to be another series of The Witcher?
Question: How many hours of play does The Witcher 3 have?
Question: Are the Witcher game still worth playing?
So there you have it, a brief overview of the world of The Witcher, including some of the main themes, characters, and battles. I hope you enjoyed this article and got something valuable from it. Perhaps you might even jump back into the Witcher universe in one form or another after reading it? I know I’m going to be playing The Witcher 3 tonight.
Regardless, I hope to see you again soon. Good luck out there, and happy hunting!
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